The Re-Demonization of the Rassemblement National
Over the past decade, since taking over control of the Front National from her father, Marine Le Pen has successfully moved the party, now renamed Rassemblement National, into contention for the presidency. Her strategy has been dubbed one of “de-demonization” (dédiabolisation in French) but might be better described as a transformation of religious, racial, and xenophobic prejudice from the plane of the concrete to that of the abstract. She has draped herself in the robes of Marianne, defending the Republic from those who, she claims, would seek to denature it.
This strategy has carried her a long way. She survived the first round of the 2017 presidential election and seems on her way to doing even better in 2022, with some polls even showing her as the winner. But the latest poll, which I cited in yesterday’s post, has her still falling short of the goal, losing to either Macron (57-43) or Bertrand (61-39) in round two. Perhaps, she reasons, de-demonization has reached its limits. She desperately needs to tap into new sources of support, and that means taking some risks, because time is short. Hence her positive response to the tribune signed by a number of retired army officers and published in the right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles.
The generals’ manifesto is quite a piece of work. For one thing, it was published on the 60th anniversary of the failed “Algiers putsch.” For another, it makes reference to “Islamism and the suburban hordes” that are allegedly “detaching multiple parcels from the nation and transforming them into territories subject to dogmas contrary to our constitution.” Never mind that the constitution expressly forbids calls to insurrection by the military. The signers of this incendiary document see only what they want to see.
Had Marine Le Pen wished to continue on the path of de-demonization, she could have avoided wading into this fray. Or she could have denounced the generals’ manifesto as manifestly unconstitutional. But she chose a different path: “As citizen and political leader, I subscribe to your analyses and share your distress,” she wrote.
In a sense, this new departure for Le Pen continues her foray into the realm of abstractions. Rather than attack individuals, as her father did when he transformed the name of a minister, Michel Durafour, into a crude pun on “crematory ovens,” she has chosen to join the “handful of retired generals” (as de Gaulle styled the putschists who had attempted to topple him) in claiming to defend the “disintegrating” Republic against unnamed enemies within and without. She trusts her followers to put faces to the faceless “hordes” said to threaten the “rooted” Frenchmen not condemned to live in the “detached territories” subject to foreign “dogmas.”
The brazenness of this effort to divide and conquer is of course reminiscent of Donald Trump, who has emboldened shameless politicians well beyond the borders of the United States. It remains to be seen whether this latest Le Penist outrage will help or hurt her. I wish I had more confidence that it will hurt, but I’m not sure that the French will prove more resistant to this kind of demagoguery than we Americans did.
Photo Credit: Kremlin.ru, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0.